cover image Little Eight John: 9

Little Eight John: 9

Jan Wahl. Dutton Books, $14.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-67367-5

Little Eight John, ``a fine-looking boy . . . as mean as mean there was,'' flouts every one of his mother's safeguards against bad luck. He kicks toads, sits in the chair backwards, counts his teeth--then laughs himself silly when these acts bring trouble. But an encounter with ``Old Raw Head Bloody Bones'' (in what turns out to have been a dream) makes him change his ways. Wahl's almost cinematic telling of this cautionary tale from the black South jumps rapidly from incident to incident, a pared-down approach that tends to overemphasize the moral and downplay the comedy. In his second collaboration with Wahl (after Tailypo! ) Clay dramatizes the story with realistic yet stylized acrylics. His loosely rendered images of a rural African American household of a few generations ago place Little Eight John's expressive face in the sharpest focus, ensuring that the reader's attention will remain focused, too. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)